Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chanteuse Irina Maleeva Recalls Her Life's "Illusions" in a Solo Musical Memoir

The European tradition of musical storytelling is one that most Americans have not been exposed to, unless they have seen footage of famed French singer Edith Piaf or the legendary Marlene Dietrich.

A chanteuse who shares her views,both bittersweet and personal, is fully on display at Hollywood's Hudson Theatre Mainstage as Bulgarian-born actress, singer and artist Irina Maleeva regales the audience with stories and songs in her one woman musical memoir "Illusions."

Irina Maleeva in "Illusions"
Maleeva, a beautiful and generous performer, uses songs from well-known singers and composers including Amanda McBroom, Leslie Bricusse, Jerry Herman, and Johnny Mercer, to tell her own story of love, loss and remembrance.

The daughter of a famed Bulgarian actress, Maleeva was raised without knowing her father, a wartime hero who lingered for years in prison after helping to save thousands of Jewish refugees by removing them from the trains bound for the concentration camps as they passed through Bulgaria. Her early love of all things artistic informed her life and, by age seven, she was the Bulgarian "Shirley Temple" much to her mother's chagrin.

A teenaged Maleeva with
some of her paintings
She went on to study both theatre design and art, but realized she wanted to be an actress like her mother. While living in Rome she attended a famed theatrical school and was recruited for film work by Federico Fellini, appearing in several short films for him. She also worked with the great Orson Welles who cast her as Jessica, the daughter to his Shylock,in a BBC television production of "The Merchant of Venice." Her recollections of the power of Welles's commanding performance and expectations of her talent create some wonderful moments on stage.

The highly charged mother-daughter relationship, seemingly unresolved during their lifetime, forms the basis of this musical reverie; Maleeva wonders why her mother wasn't able to tell her how much she loved her when she needed to hear it the most.

Maleeva's admonition to the audience to tell those we love how we feel about them is perfectly captured in the song "Kiss Her Now" while her tearful rendition of Amanda McBroom's "Portrait" is heartbreaking and sincere.

Ultimately, we see the triumph of the spirit over circumstances and Maleeva finishes the evening with Piaf's soulful anthem "Mon Dieu."

Co-written and directed by recent Tony-nominee Randy Johnson ("A Night with Janis Joplin"), the show is aided immensely by the accompanying musicians led by music director, arranger and pianist Ed Martel, Bill Brendle and Steve Welch on synthesizer and Larry Tuttle on upright bass. Also featured  is a fine singer and performer John Paul Batista who portrays various men in Maleeva's past, including her father in a haunting version of the traditional Bulgarian hymn "Beautiful Forest." Many of the songs are featured on Maleeva's "Illusions" CD which is available online.

If you have never experienced the world of Jacques Brel, Yves Montand and Lotte Lenya, treat yourself to this musical tapestry, consider it a gift from Irina Maleeva to you.

"Illusions" plays at the Hudson Theatre Mainstage Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 3 pm, through November 23. Tickets are available through the websites plays411.net, Eventbrite and Goldstar.